It’s a little known fact — but one bicycle professionals know all too well — that most U.S. bike companies don’t actually make bikes. Essentially, there is no “American” brand. And yet despite this, 2016 is the year 2201 Brookwood in Little Rock became home to one of the only bicycle manufacturing companies in the country, HIA Velo.
“I’ve been in the bike business my whole life, but I was selling bikes from China,” founder Tony Karklins said. “I always wondered who would make that change, I just didn’t know it would be me.”
When Guru Cycles in Quebec, Canada filed for bankruptcy, Karklins saw an opportunity to change the stigma. He decided to “go on a full court press” to purchase the factory at auction and relocate it to the U.S., saving big money by scoring used machinery.
Deciding where to set up shop included its own set of complications, something Karkins knew to expect after helping bring international bicycle manufacturer Orbea to Arkansas in 2001. A factory like this one brings with it a lot of jobs and requires a lot of training, meaning the business would need government backup. It came down to eight states, but in the end, Arkansas won the bid.
It took a month of packing, five 53-ft. semi trucks and a windchill of -41 degrees, but HIA Velo arrived in Little Rock and was fully installed and operational within three months. Karklins then began recruiting welders, painters and other professionals across the country to join his team in Arkansas, and they were willing to follow “because they believe in U.S. manufacturing.”
Today one completed bike, LIT No. 1, sits like a trophy in the center of the space. HIA Velo has been functional for about a month with plans to be producing steel, titanium and composite bikes within six months.
The goal is to be fully launched and selling by Christmas in order to work out any kinks before spring when bike sales typically increase. Plans for an eventual show room are also on the horizon, but Karklins says you’ll most likely soon be able to find these American-made bicycles at the Spokes bike shop on Kavanaugh.
Though it may be a few months before you get the chance to ride an HIA Velo bike, when you do, you’ll be traveling on a handcrafted piece that helped pave the way for an industry.
“It goes all the way from raw material through to the finished product in this building,” Karklins said. “That doesn’t happen in America.”
It does now.